April 12, 2013
(Windows Live Writer was not letting me embed any videos into this blog post. Grr. Rather than rip out my beautiful head of hair, I am opting to provide a link to the youtube video where Mike Cranston says hello to the Blog. Here is the link.)
The length of time it took me to transcribe this is far longer than nearly any other interview I’ve done over the last 6 years. My apologies for that.
Mike Cranston and I met for lunch a long, long time ago. If I recall correctly, it was at the Boston Pizza on Portland Street in Dartmouth, which has probably long since closed. We ordered items that are probably no longer offered at any BP in the country.
During the meal, when the servers were not pestering us in an effort to upsize our food orders, we had a very interesting conversation. Here it is.
(Oh. Not just yet. Since this interview was conducted, Hal FM went to that great Classic Rock station in the sky, to be replaced by the much better 89.9 The Wave. Michael has asked me to let you know that he is a fan. There will be a parenthetical statement to that effect later on.)
1. How did you get your start in radio?
Michael Cranston: My father was General Manager of CKOC in Hamilton, Ontario. I needed a summer job one time. My mother convinced him to hire me. I was hired as the official "gopher" at CKOC, getting coffee for the guys, just generally running around.
I was fairly young at the time. I decided I wanted to take a year off. I was about to go to the University of Toronto in the Dentistry course. I thought, "Why not try to get a job in the broadcasting business?"
I borrowed my mother’s car, drove throughout Ontario, and landed a job in Midland: the old proverbial 250 watt station. I started at CKOC in July of 1963. I started in Midland in September of 1963.
I started doing the six to midnight shift. Within three or four weeks, they appointed me the News Director, and I was co-hosting the morning show.
Bevboy: How old were you at this point?
MC: Seventeen. As luck would have it -- bad luck for John F. Kennedy certainly, but good luck for me -- he was assassinated on November 22nd. I was on a bus heading home to Hamilton for the weekend. I think he was assassinated on a Friday.
BB: Yes. It was a Friday.
MC: We pulled into Union Station in Toronto. I saw for the first time; I don’t know if I’ve seen it since. It was a gigantic red headline on the newspaper: "Kennedy Dead". So, any self-respecting journalist (which I certainly was not) would have immediately turned around and gone back to his post and handled it. I just carried on right to Hamilton, spent the weekend with my parents watching everything on television. That was my start in the business.
BB: On Monday morning, when you go to work, did they ask, "Where the hell were you this weekend?"
MC: No. Actually, we were a CBC affiliate. I knew that they would just immediately be switching to the network. There would be virtually no local input whatsoever. It wasn’t as if I was really abandoning my position.
BB: You’re from Ontario, I presume?
BB: Eventually you found your way to Nova Scotia.
MC: Not until 1979.
BB: Okay. What happened in the interim?
MC: I went all kinds of places. I went from Midland to Guelph, Ontario. I was there for about 14 months. Then, I went to Sudbury. That’s where I met my wife. We were in Sudbury until 1966. I went to Toronto. I was at CHUM AM.
MC: No. 1050. CFRB was 1010. I was there until ‘69. Then, we went to Edmonton. I was in Edmonton for close to seven years. Then, back to Sudbury, in television. I anchored a network tv newscast, which was networked to Sudbury, North Bay, and Timmons. Then, they wanted me to do the morning show again. I had been doing the morning show in Sudbury, so I switched back to doing mornings and an afternoon television show. MacLean-Hunter, who owns what is now MBS came along. They were looking for somebody for the morning show in Kitchener. They approached me for that. I sent them a demo and expressed some interest in the job. While that was happening, the morning man in Halifax left.
BB: Who was that?
MC: That was Pat Connolly. He’d been hired and left just a couple of months after being hired.
Anyway, they said, "Can you fly to Halifax and take a look around?" My wife and I came to Halifax. Neither one of us had ever been East of Montreal. We virtually fell in love with the place. One thing led to another. They hired me to do the morning show here.
BB: And that was on Tobin Street, in the old radio building?
MC: That’s right. I started in October of 1979. We owned a house in Sudbury. They were having a strike at INCO. Real estate was not moving. My wife and kids stayed in Sudbury until the house sold. They were there until January of 1980. I was here by myself from October until January. Then they moved down with me until they sold the house.
BB: When you were hopping around from station to station in the ‘60‘s and into the ‘70‘s, what kind of radio jobs were you holding down?
MC: Mostly morning shows. When I was in Edmonton, I was the Program Director. When I was in Sudbury one of the times, I was the Program Director. Then, I was ultimately the Program Director here at CHNS.
BB: Which, of course, is a management position. Is it easier to be a Program Director having been in the trenches doing the job?
MC: I think it is. Unfortunately for me, I was a Program Director at the same time I was also pulling down an air shift. It makes for an extremely long day. I don’t think you are as effective in either position when you have to do them both.
BB: Is there any audio from those years?
MC: I do. I have a box full of reel-to-reel tapes. Unfortunately, last Summer our hot water heater went and soaked the box. The insurance company took it. They tried to restore them. I don’t have a reel-to-reel player so I have no way of knowing if they actually have been restored. But I have a box full of tapes that go right back to 1963.
BB: Oh, my gosh. Who has reel-to-reel players any more?
MC: I don’t know.
BB: Maybe Scott Snailham has one. It would be cool to digitize that.
MC: It would.
2. When you had your "exit interview" with Steve Murphy in 2010, you opined that there were too many radio stations in Halifax. Please justify that comment.
MC: Well, commercial radio stations are dependent on advertising dollars. Back in the day, in 1979, there were only 3 radio stations competing for those advertising dollars. That would have been CHNS, CJCH, and CFDR. Everybody had an FM station with the exception of CFDR. They were stand alone. I can’t remember what format C100 had, but I know that CHFX played a lot of classical music. They had the licenses, but they weren’t trying to sell them. So, 3 stations were splitting up the radio advertising dollar. Today, you’ve got 10 commercial stations.
BB: Are you including Seaside FM?
MC: No. I don’t consider them a commercial station per se. But [the 10] are fighting for a diminished advertising dollar because the pie has shrunk significantly with the advent of particularly the internet and some other forms of advertising. Radio advertising is a tough sell now compared to what it was at one time. So, when you have 10 stations fighting for a diminished advertising dollar, obviously everybody cannot make a living.
When you have the duplication of formats that we have in Halifax, where 3 or 4 stations play virtually the same music and have virtually the same kind of attitude and the same kind of promotions and contests, you’re dividing [the pie] even further. There is not a diversification of format, and the advertising dollar has shrunk. In my opinion, 10 stations is far too many. I don’t know what the number is, but it’s something less than 10. That’s for sure.
BB: It could still shake out that some stations fail, and they just give their license back to the CRTC.
MC: I’ve never heard of that. No, if a station fails, they will inevitably try to find somebody to buy it. Then, somebody else will come along and try something new or maintain the same format or whatever. But, it’s a tough way, a tough slog, to say radio advertising.
BB: It’s less of a pie, and more of a tart, now.
MC: [laughs] Half a tart.
3. Denyse Sibley told me about the time you came to her defense in Frank Magazine. Is this the first time and the only time you have done something like this?
MC: Someone had written a letter to Frank Magazine; they published it. It was about Denyse. It reflected her in a rather negative light. I wanted to set the record straight. I wanted to tell people what my perception of Denyse Sibly was, which was extremely positive and always had been. I don’t think I’ve ever written another letter like that. It wasn’t that Denyse needed defending: she’s a big girl and can take care of herself. I was offended myself by the way that this person’s perception was, and by the fact that Frank Magazine would publish such tripe. I can’t even remember what I said in the letter, but it just explained what the real Denyse Sibley was. And she’s a wonderful girl.
4. What radio stations do you listen to now?
MC: My station of choice in my car is Lite 92.9 because I like the music that they play. I listen to CHFX a certain amount simply because I work there and I feel it’s necessary to keep abreast of what’s going on. But, primarily, I don’t listen to the radio anymore. The only time I do listen is in the car. [Bevboy Note: Okay. Here is a brief addendum from Michael: I have become a big fan of 89.9 The Wave. I really like the music and I think the imaging is excellent. (I still only listen while I’m driving)]
We watch early morning tv shows to get our fix of news.
BB: Like that new Global show? [with Crystal Garrett, Paul Brothers, and Jill Chappell]
MC: I don’t watch that. I did try it, but didn’t care for it. I watch Canada AM. There’s a certain local component. But my radio listening days are behind me. And, you know what? I’m out of the demographic. I’m 67 years old. They don’t want me listening.
BB: In theory, they don’t care if you listen or not.
MC: That’s right. And, they got their way, because I don’t.
BB: I’m a little surprised that you wouldn’t mention News 95.7. Do you ever tune in to hear Jordi Morgan or Rick Howe? [Bevboy note: This interview was conducted prior to the layoffs at News 95.7 on November 5, 2013]
MC: I’ve never cared for talk shows. Still don’t. I found that when I did listen to talk shows, and we had one years ago, the same 50 people call, expressing the same 50 opinions. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. When you get to the point where you’re recognizing the voices of the listeners that are calling.... I just find it a waste of time.
BB: Do you think there’s a place for Open Line radio shows?
MC: I don’t. I think that social media has taken over your ability to express your opinion either in short form on Facebook or on a tweet, or in your own case, with your blog. You can voice whatever opinions you want. I’m assuming people can respond.
BB: Of course.
MC: OK. So, there’s your talk show right there except that it’s all done on the internet. I just find that talk shows are a colossal waste of time.
BB: What about if they have an hour where they have an actual subject?
MC: With a guest?
BB: Yes. Is that better?
MC: Sure. That would make more sense. But that doesn’t happen very often. It’s the exception as opposed to the rule.
BB: I’m a little surprised to hear that. You were a News Director. I thought that you would be a proponent of spoken word content if nothing else.
MC: No. I was a pretty crappy News Director for starters. I’m not a news junkie the way most people who listen to these shows are. Jordi and Rick Howe are news junkies. They do a terrific job of what they do. It’s just if they could somehow keep the 50 old men who call to express their opinions then it would be a different story.
BB: I remember when Steve Murphy did the Hotline on CJCH. There was this woman who called every day. He even called her "Mrs. D", whatever her name was.
MC: And you have to remember that Steve was 21 and 22 years old when he was hosting that show, which was amazing. He didn’t sound 21 or 22 years old. But, you do have to have a little more life experience to be able to handle the "Mrs. D’s" of this world.
BB: Let’s talk about the open line shows at CHNS. Bob Oxley did one. Before that, a guy named Mike had a show called Open Mike.
BB: Thank you. Evidently, his was the first open line radio show in Halifax. Then, there was Bob Oxley. I’m not sure when he left, but at some point Clive Schaefer was doing one.
BB: And after Clive’s show was done, there was a second open line talk show. By the time you got there in ‘79...
MC: It was gone.
BB: There was no open line talk show at all?
MC: Not that I can recall. We had a show called "Maritime Morning" that ran from 9 until noon. A fellow by the name of Kevin Trudell hosted it. He had a fair bit of talk on that show. He would have experts: home maker experts, fashion tips, whatever.
BB: It was geared toward women, obviously.
MC: Exactly. It lasted for a year or two. But, CHNS was flailing around in those days and looking for a way to compete with CJCH effectively. CJCH was very clearly the number one station in town. CHNS had been, for many, many years; but CJCH took over we’ll say in the mid ‘70‘s.
So, CHNS tried a bunch of different things. I can remember, when I was doing the morning show. Hal Blackadar was the General Manager at the time. He decided it would be an idea for us to hire a producer for the morning show. On Saint Patrick’s Day, I would call a bartender in Dublin and talk to him about Saint Patrick’s Day. Again, that did not succeed at all. It was abandoned after about a year. We went back to a more traditional type of morning show. We played different music than what CJCH was playing.
BB: For years, you guys were Easy Listening, like CFDR.
MC: I think so. When I got here, they contemporized the music format to a certain extent. It still wasn’t what you would call a Top 40 format, which is what CJCH was.
BB: At some point I want to talk about the days during which radio stations had to provide a certain spoken word component. That went away about 1993.
MC: FM, primarily, had to provide it. AM didn’t.
BB: CJCH’s Hotline was very popular in its day, so they kept it on the air [until June of 1989].
MC: You had a promise of performance that you made with the CRTC that you could adapt. Let’s say your license was renewed for seven years. You had to adhere to that promise of performance for those seven years. When it came up for renewal, if you wanted to drop your talk show for example, you would then make application to the CRTC with supporting documentation as to why it’s a good idea, or why you had to do that.
The initial regulations on FM were very prohibitive and restricted. Your spoken word content was huge. That was eventually, and I think wisely, ended.
BB: I always liked having the variety of programming. I think things became a lot more homogenized after the spoken word content regulations were relaxed.
MC: You’re right. That did happen. Everybody was trying to compete with the CBC. You can’t compete with the CBC. There’s this gigantic monolith that the Canadian taxpayer subsidizes to the tune of a billion two a year, or whatever it is. They do what they do, very well. So, FM stations in those days, pre-1993, would try to compete ineffectively with the CBC. And, every time a BBM would come out, you say, "This is not working". If you’re not going to have the audience, you’re not going to be able to sell an audience. So, if you’re in this as a commercial enterprise you are going to have to make some hard decisions. "We’ve got to compete on a higher level. We’ve got to compete where is audience available." Because, if you’re a CBC listener, you’re always going to be one. You’ll never be satisfied with anything that a commercial FM station is going to be able to provide.
BB: To this day, CBC listeners are loyal almost to a fault. They won’t even sample private radio. I would say there’s fun in private radio still. They should try it out, but they just won’t. They’d rather win a kazoo from Stan Carew than a trip to Jamaica on C100.
MC: That’s right.
BB: I like Stan Carew, by the way.
5. Please say something about the following people
A. Katey Day
MC: I have a lot of time for her. Just to give you a little background, I had seen Katey perform as a singer at a couple of different venues.
I was the interim Operations Manager for a period of time at MBS. My telephone rang one day. It was Katey Day asking if we ever employed freelancers to do commercials. I said, "Well, to the best of my knowledge, we do not. But, why don’t you come in and we’ll hear what you’ve got."
So, she came in. I sat her down in the recording studio with our producer at the time. She banged off three or four commercials. I listened to them. I thought, "Whoa. This girl is good!" She had a fabulous voice. I’m sure that was partially because of her training as a singer. But she could read a spot like nobody’s business. And, as luck would have it, at that time there was an opening for us in the News department for the afternoon casts. I had her read a newscast. She was great! So, we hired her to do afternoon news. After a period of time, she went over to Hal FM and did the morning show, and Afternoon Drive. But, she’s great. I know that she’s now working on her singing career full-time. I wish her nothing but the best.
BB: I hope she goes back to radio sometime. I enjoyed listening to her. I was in studio with her on her last day on the air. You gave her a set of headphones or something? She showed them to me.
MC: They probably didn’t work.
BB: I have no idea. But she thinks a lot of you.
B. Frank Cameron
MC: I’ve known Frank Cameron since 1980. Frank and I first met when we were co-emcee’s of the Miss Halifax pageant. Somebody had the brilliant idea of bringing a full bottle of rum to the back stage area of the pageant. As we went through the evening, we would go back and take a little nip of rum, go back out on stage to introduce the next component of the show. Backstage. Another little nip of rum.
By the end of that night, we were fried. It was scary. I had never done that before or since, in an official capacity as an emcee. But we enjoyed the Miss Halifax Pageant that year a little more than we should have.
I spoke at his roast a year or so ago. I said, "I lost track of Frank. I didn’t realize where he was until he came out as one of the contestants in the swimsuit competition. The sad thing was, he came in second."
Then, we worked together for a period of time. He was doing the morning show on CHNS; and I was involved in the morning show on CHFX. We’d see each other every day. Good guy. Really good guy.
BB: You guys co-existed at CHNS/CHFX. He went back to radio [after retiring from the CBC] in August of 1995. You had got the job in 1990 at Sun FM. We’ll talk more about Sun FM in a few minutes, when we talk about Jamie Paterson. I know you went from there to the Metro Food Bank back to MBS.
MC: Well, while I worked at the Metro Food Bank, I was always doing a weekend shift or something on one of the commercial stations. But the majority of my income in those days was from freelance. I would do everything from commercials, voiceovers for CTV, lots of different commercial accounts that I had at the time. I would even do things like voiceovers for professors at Dalhousie University as part of their powerpoint presentation or whatever. It was very lucrative. That’s how I made my living. And, we had some real estate investments as well.
BB: You’re not starving to death.
BB: OK. You pay for lunch, then. I’m just kidding!
C. Daryl Good
MC: Daryl is one of the most accomplished, professional, dedicated, people I have ever worked with. He never misses work. He’s never late for work. I’m not sure how old Daryl is now, but I would assume he’s somewhere in his early 60‘s. He sounds like he’s 35. He is one of these guys where you can throw a script at him, and he’ll bang it off, first time, perfectly. He’s just a real, real pro.
BB: What kind of person is he? Is he a nice guy?
MC: He’s a very nice guy. But I don’t know him on a personal level. All the years we’ve worked together, we’ve never been out for a drink. He keeps to himself.
BB: He’s a private man.
MC: Very private. But popular. It’s not as if he’s some kind of a weird old guy that lives under a bridge. He’s a very private man. That’s a good way to describe it.
BB: You said he can rip and read?
MC: Absolutely. There is no such thing as ripping and reading any more. It’s all computerized.
BB: It must happen with you or Daryl Good or anyone else, where you’re reading a newscast and you see some name with 18 consonants in a row. Do you ever struggle with pronouncing something like that?
MC: Oh, sure. Usually what I find I do, and Daryl wouldn’t do this, is I just fake it. I just try to sound as confident as possible, fully knowing that I’m mispronouncing the name. I’m brutalizing it. But I just read it as if it’s a name I use in conversation all the time.
BB: Would Daryl Good make an effort to learn to say it correctly?
MC: I think he would.
BB: I hope to meet him sometime.
D. Brian Phillips
MC: He was the king. I met Brian for the first time in 1979. The fellow that ran CJCH in those days was named Paul Ski. He is now the president of Rogers, coincidentally enough. Paul and I worked together in Sudbury. I knew him very well.
When I got to town, I was by myself. My family hadn’t joined me yet. Paul arranged for me to go to the Press Club, which was in the lower level of the Carlton hotel in those days. I met some of the people from CJCH: Chuck Langdon, Brian Phillips, some of the other people. It was more a matter of professional courtesy that Paul introduced me. I immediately liked Brian. He was a funny guy: very, very witty. At that time he was also doing the ...
BB: Atlantic Lottery?
MC: I think he was doing that a year later.
BB: I think he was doing it in the 1970‘s.
MC: He was still doing it by the time I got here. So, he had that television presence and was very accomplished on tv. Because I was his competition, I very rarely heard his morning show, obviously. But, I would hear about things that he had done, like saying it’s cold enough to freeze the nuts on the Macdonald Bridge. It was brilliant stuff.
BB: Risqué stuff, but not really.
MC: That’s right. I now run into Brian on a weekly basis: we both do some freelance voice work for EastLink. My shift is just before his. We see each other just about every time, in passing.
BB: Tell him I said hello.
MC: I will.
BB: What was it like to compete with a person you knew and liked? I’ve asked this question of jocks before. They give the same answer. But you are competing for advertising dollars. They are your competition, but you personally like the guy.
MC: It’s never bothered me. Down through the years, I have been quite close friends with a number of my competitors. I don’t consider I’m competing with the person. I’m competing with the whole, overall image of the station, which includes their music policy, their promotions policy, their contests. The station that I’m with is trying to attract a different audience than the one that they [other stations] are trying to attract.
It’s not like competing for a job as you would if you were a quarterback and you wanted to knock off the existing quarterback. So, it’s never bothered me.
I’ve got a lot of friends in this business, in this town; and very few of them have I ever worked with at any particular station.
BB: You worked with Gary Tredwell at Sun FM. He always spoke highly of you.
MC: Gary was a kid when I worked with him. He was very young in the business.
BB: He followed Tony Beech. Tony Beech had a show on Sun FM. Then, Gary had a Big Band show, and he was 21.
MC: He also did Production. He did some character voices. This is pre-Greasy Gary days. He was "Mr. Know-It-All". I can’t remember if that was exactly what he called himself, but he would pop up on other shows. He was a terrific act. He still is.
BB: He’s a great guy. He’s been very nice to me. Do you miss Greasy Gary, the character?
MC: Again, I know of the character. I never heard him.
BB: Well, he actually taught me to speak as Greasy Gary. Go to my youtube channel; there’s a video of him teaching me to speak like him.
BB: You have to watch that.
MC: Have you ever considered freelancing for Q104?
BB: Me? Well, they’d have to overlook a lot of my faults. We’ll see.
E. Tony Beech
MC: Tony Beech I don’t know at all. I’ve met him. He worked at Sun FM when I was there. But, he was doing 10-midnight on Saturday night or something. What was it called? "Candlelight and Wine" or something?
MC: I didn’t have any one-on-one with Tony whatsoever. I know how popular he was in those days, particularly with the older female demographic. I admired what he did. It wasn’t my taste. I didn’t like the music. But I was certainly aware of how popular it was with the audience that he was trying to attract. But, aside from meeting him and occasionally bumping into him at a meeting of some kind, I didn’t know him at all.
BB: He was a provincial civil servant, I believe, in the Finance Department for many, many years. He’s long since retired. I have no idea what he is doing now.
MC: I don’t think he’s in town. If he was, I’m sure he’d be working for Seaside FM.
BB: He did work for them.
MC: Did he?
BB: He either didn’t want to work with Wayne Harrett, or he didn’t want to work for free.
MC: Imagine that!
BB: All right. This is long before your time in Halifax, but in the late 1940‘s and into 1950, there was a guy named Norm Riley who worked for CJCH. I am guessing that his voice would have been similar to what Tony Beech did 20-odd years later. I’ve been trying to track down information about Norm Riley.
MC: Never heard of him.
BB: Well, if you google "Norm Riley" and "Bevboy", I have 10 posts on the guy. I found out some stuff about him. Totally off topic here, but he interviewed Ronald Reagan when Reagan came to Halifax. His wife was Jane Wyman; she was shooting "Johnny Belinda" here.
MC: Oh! Right. The deaf girl.
BB: And mute. Almost like Helen Keller. It’s off-topic, except...
F. Clive Schaefer
BB: Norm Riley did a show with Mr. Clive Schaefer. Clive worked at CJCH for a year or so. Did you know that?
MC: Yes. I did.
BB: From 1948 until 1949. He would have joined CHNS that year. That’s where he finished his career.
MC: That’s right.
BB: OK. Let’s talk about Mr. Clive Schaefer.
MC: An amazing man. I can only hope to replicate his many, many years of experience. He worked on a regular, full-time basis until he was, I think, 74 years old. Again, he’s another one of those people that, when you turned on the radio and Clive Schaefer was doing a newscast, you were totally unaware he was 74 years old. Not that there is anything wrong with being 74 years old. But he had a very youthful sound, such a polished presentation, great voice. Everything about him was fabulous.
I was lucky that I got to know him and that I got to work with him. I thought once in a one-in-a-lifetime would you work with a guy like Clive.
BB: Did he work until 74 out of necessity or because he wanted to?
MC: I think it was because he wanted to. I don’t know what his financial circumstances were, but he would have been collecting his CPP and his Old Age Security at that stage, for sure.
Toward the latter stages of his career at CHNS, he was doing Afternoons, but he had been doing Mornings for many, many years. He’d show up at 4:30 in the morning. That’s not an easy thing for a young guy let alone a 74 year old. Although, Clive would ride his motorcycle... I don’t think he was riding his motorcycle the last couple of years.
BB: He rode a bicycle, didn’t he?
MC: I don’t know. I just remember seeing him on his Harley with his helmet on. He had a terrible accident, as you are probably aware. He was hospitalized for months; it was touch-and-go. He had a dent in his head that he was very proud of showing off.
BB: I remember seeing the dent when I talked to him a few years ago, but I don’t know anything about the accident. That would scare me away from going on a motorcycle again. How bad was the injury?
MC: Terrible. Head injury. Like I say, I believe it was touch-and-go for a while. They weren’t sure if he was going to make it. He would have been in his 60‘s then. This would have been in the ‘70‘s.
BB: Before you met him was when the accident would have happened?
BB: My gosh. Who was instrumental in getting Clive Schaefer to come back for that one day in the year 2000?
MC: That would have been Nancy Hilchie. Nancy was the general manager of the station at the time. She had been with the company for 25 years, I guess, and had started off in Promotions. She became General Manager and was one of the best General Managers I’d ever worked with. She thought it would be kind of neat to have Clive come back in the year 2000 so that he could say he had worked in Halifax broadcasting in seven separate decades.
We had a little party for him in the boardroom and made a little presentation. He went in and did the newscast. He did it live. It wasn’t recorded. Somebody had prepared it for him. But, again, he sounded like he had been doing it every day [since his retirement]. He didn’t miss a beat.
BB: Was any thought given to having him come back a little bit, on a weekend basis, like what you’re doing now?
MC: I don’t think so. Not that I’m aware of. I don’t think he ever asked.
BB: Fair enough. I’ve heard that his politics were quite conservative.
MC: To the right of Attila the Hun.
BB: Rigidly conservative. Don Connolly mentioned that on the air one time. But he always seemed to have a lot of respect for Clive. Was it a question of liking the man, or respecting him, sometimes?
MC: Well, I liked him. I certainly respected him. But, I was aware of his politics. He was extremely right wing and did not hesitate to share his opinion at all. He was one of these guys who I think was too crazy about the fact that women were making inroads in the broadcast business. He was very old school. Women, at one point in the history of broadcasting, just did not play much of a role as far as the on air presentation was concerned.
BB: Like Abbie Lane. She was referred to as "the woman’s broadcaster".
MC: Most stations employed one woman who hosted the "housewives’ show".
BB: OK. He was rigidly conservative, but did that stop him from getting along with people who were not?
BB: He could be professional and listen to other people’s viewpoints...
MC: Depending on how the argument played out. I think back to the days when there were young guys in the newsroom who were inevitably left wing. If they were disrespectful to Clive, or to his opinions, or the way young people can be, he then would not have the time of day for them.
BB: Professionally? Personally?
MC: No. He was his own man, and he wished that everybody would share his political philosophy. If they didn’t, that was their problem, not his.
BB: Could he at least listen to someone else’s [opinion].
MC: Oh, yes.
BB: He wouldn’t necessarily agree with it.
MC: He definitely wouldn’t agree with it.
BB: Would he even concede that the person had a point?
MC: Probably not. [chuckles]
BB: Well, I can see why he did the talk show there for a while.
G. Robert Pace
BB: I’m told that whenever I publish an interview, there’s someone who works at MBS who tells Robert Pace. I guess he wants to read it to see if he’s mentioned. So, hello, Mr. Pace. What do you want to say about Robert Pace?
MC: I guess I’d better say nothing but positives. I like Robert Pace. Robert Pace has treated me fabulously from the very first time that I ever met him. I admire him. I think that he is a brilliant businessman. He is certainly the most politically tuned-in guy I’ve ever met.
BB: For which party?
MC: Liberal. But he worked in Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s office as a young man. He got his law degree from Dalhousie and then pretty well immediately went to work for the PMO. He was very well connected all through the Chretien years. He and Jean Chretien were very close friends. He knows many of the people who are cabinet ministers under both Trudeau and Chretien. He’s got the goods when it comes to politics.
BB: He could pick up the phone and get Jean Chretien?
MC: He could pick up the phone and get Justin Trudeau on the phone this afternoon if he wanted to. And Justin Trudeau would take the call. [Robert Pace] has been an adviser to the Liberal party for a long time, and very, very well connected. And deservedly so. He knows what he’s talking about.
I’m aware of the reputation that Robert has in some quarters. In many cases, it’s unfair. If you stop and think about the number of entry-level positions that people coming out of NSCC or other Broadcasting courses or whatever, people looking for their first job in broadcasting, I would venture to say that in the Maritimes, MBS has hired by far and away, more than any other company that is currently broadcasting in this part of the world.
BB: And that’s to his credit?
MC: I think it’s very much to his credit. Not that he is making the personal decisions and saying, "Okay. We’re going to put John Jones into Miramichi." But it’s a blanket policy of the company, in some situations for business reasons, because your first job you’re probably not going to be making as much money as Brian Phillips. But, by the same token, he doesn’t have to hire them: He could go and find people in other places to fill these positions. There have been a number of positions that have been filled by absolute rookies coming right out of school that MBS has hired. That is a direct result of his policies.
BB: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If they prove their mettle, I suppose.
MC: I don’t know. The argument could be made either way. I think it’s a good thing because it constantly refreshes the broadcasting industry. You get new people coming in. If you’ve got talent, you’re going to do well. If you don’t have any talent (and trust me, I know that many people have been hired who have no talent), you will get weeded out fairly quickly. They will find that there are better ways to make a living.
It’s not the same business it once was. The aspirations you have as far as making a big, big dollar, I don’t think exist any more. There are still some big dollars being paid in some markets, or at some stations, some companies; but it’s not like it once was. I made over $100 000 at one point in this business. I couldn’t do that today.
BB: How many years ago was that?
MC: That would have been between 15 and 20 years ago. And, all the perks from those days are gone.
BB: Brian Phillips used to have his own company vehicle.
MC: Oh, that was very common. That was an easy one. I had a vehicle. I had a vacation paid for every year for myself and my family. I had an expense claim. What the heck was it now? I could claim $300 a month. I had to provide receipts for that $300. But I could also claim an additional $200 a month that I didn’t have to provide any receipts for.
BB: Ostensibly for what purpose?
MC: Going out. Meeting people. Having lunch. Buying dinner. Whatever. That was part of my contract. There are hardly any contracts left in this business. We’re getting off topic.
With Robert Pace, I think that he’s a hard-nosed business man. He has his own particular style and his own way of wanting to do things. He is the owner, 100%, so it’s his football. If he wants to take it home, he can do that whenever he wants.
I have a lot of time for Robert Pace. I think that he is an asset to broadcasting, as opposed to a liability, which is what many people would try to convince you of.
BB: I have never met the guy. I’ve heard what I’ve heard. I do know that there are two sides to every story. I’m not trying to be wishy washy with Robert Pace, but like I said: I have an open mind about almost everybody. Maybe he would charm the pants off me if I ever met him.
MC: He would.
BB: I have heard things about Robert Pace that were uncomplimentary. People who would have a hard time working with him or for him. Those are the people who are the most vocal about him. Meanwhile, he’s over here not saying anything.
MC: That’s part of his style.
BB: It gives credence to their story. By being so vocal in their criticism of the man, and he’s not saying anything...
MC: I would venture that many of the people that are so vocal about their criticism, have never met him either.
MC: Yes. For example, these people in Saint John, New Brunswick, that are on strike. I don’t know how many of them have actually met Robert Pace. I would have my doubts if any of them have. But, when you venture into that area, and I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to labour relations, so much of it is in the hands of lawyers and the hands of union administration. I don’t believe that Robert has ever participated in any of the negotiations.
BB: Okay. Is there anything else you want to say about Mr. Pace?
BB: Do you call him "Robert", or "Mr. Pace"?
MC: I call him "Robert".
BB: What does he call you?
MC: He calls me "Mike".
H. Hal Blackadar.
MC: Hal Blackadar was the General Manager when I was hired in 1979. He subsequently went on to a big, big career. As I said, Maclean-Hunter owned the station at that time. They transferred him to Ottawa to their station there. From there, he went to Toronto and went to work for Corus and climbed the ladder at Corus until he became a Vice President. He retired, and then they brought him back in as the Interim President of Corus.
He, again, is one of those people you meet in your career that you’ll never forget. When I used to go in for a meeting with him in his office, his big corner office on Tobin Street, he wasn’t there. I’d look down; and under his desk I would see his hands folded under his desk. We would then conduct the meeting from under the desk. He was just trying to be weird, trying to be funny. And, he was a funny guy.
But, while he was the general manager at CHNS, they competed very favourably with CJCH. He introduced a thing called "The Fantastic Plastic Card". Today, it sounds very dated because who uses credit cards anymore? But, this was a credit card that listeners could get. They would then be able to activate certain savings at various clients. It was a big, big money maker for the station. It was terrific for the listeners and the vendors. It was a brilliant concept that was his.
We had a thing called "The Blockbuster", where we had a 1981 white Chryster convertible with call letters all over it. It pulled a small trailer, a recreational vehicle kind of thing. It would go to various neighbourhoods. The guy would go on the air and say, "The Blockbuster is in Spryfield", or in Chrichton Park or wherever it happened to be. "The first 10 people to arrive at the broadcast location will receive [a prize]".
BB: They still do that with some stations the odd time.
MC: But that was the first time. The first time I’d ever heard of it. He had some great concepts. He was a very likeable guy. He was hugely popular in the business community. In those days, he would organize a big event for all the clients in one of the hotels. There would be hundreds of people there. Everything would be laid on. There would be all the booze you could drink, all the canapé you could eat, door prizes, entertainment, just by way of thanking clients for buying advertising on the radio station. So, he was a good guy.
I. Joe Bowen
MC: The voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Joe and I worked together in Sudbury. He did the sports on the television newscast that I hosted. Then, they moved me to the morning show. Then, they moved Joe to the morning show, doing sports.
I got the job down here. I believe it was Bruce Stephen who had been doing Sports on CHNS and left. There was an opening for a sports caster. In told Hal Blackadar about Joe. Joe had been doing play-by-play voice work for The Sudbury Wolves OHL team. One thing led to another. We tried to get ahold of Joe; he was in the middle of the Caribbean on a cruise. So, for the first and only time in my life, I called ship to shore, or shore to ship, and got ahold of him on the cruise line. He must have been terrified when they came and got him.
I told him, "When you get back to Miami, don’t fly home to Sudbury. Fly to Halifax because there’s a possibility of a job here. And, part of the job was doing play-by-play for the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the AHL hockey team. So, that’s exactly what he did. He and his wife got to Miami, flew here. One thing led to another and he was hired to do the morning show (sports). He went back home, got organized. This was just weeks after I had started there. But that’s the kind of guy Hal Blackadar was: "Okay. We want to hire this guy? Let’s hire this guy. Let’s fly him here. Let’s spend whatever money is necessary."
He was just here for slightly over a year. Then, Ron Hewett had been doing the play-by-play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and left. I believe the Leafs approached Joe. That was his dream job, all along. I said, "Look, Joe. You have to take this." Off he went. And, he’s still there. He’s been doing that for... 35 years.
BB: And probably paid a handsome salary for it.
MC: I’m sure he is.
BB: You said he did the play-by-play for the Voyageurs. Pat Connolly did the same thing at some point. Was that before or after?
MC: Well, I don’t know if he did the play-by-play or the announcer, like what Ian Robinson does now [for the Mooseheads]. The public address announcer. Now, CFDR, prior to 1979, maybe had the rights to the Voyageurs games. I can’t imagine anybody else doing it other than Pat if that was the case. But, he didn’t do that after he came to CHNS briefly.
J. Jamie Paterson, "the man in the van". You gave him that appellation I believe.
MC: That’s right.
BB: It was 1990 when Sun FM went on the air. You were part of the original morning show...
BB: You were not?
BB: OK. Tell me about that.
MC: I came in six months after they signed on. Ian McPhee did the morning show. I believe he still does work for Seaside FM. I’m not 100% sure. I’m not one of his favourite people, obviously, because I took his job. But, they were not happy with the morning show, so they brought me in. I did it initially with Erica Munn and then with a woman named Katey Rebbak from Vancouver. That didn’t last long. Then, Paula Breckon was there for probably four or five years, I guess.
We needed to have some kind of a fun guy on the air with us. So, Jamie made himself available. I’m not sure what broadcast experience he had before that. He had been a stand-up comic. But he came in and we made him "The Man In The Van". He would go out in the van every morning while we were on the air and got some absolutely golden features and interviews.
For example, one day he walked into a hotel somewhere in Halifax, knocked on a door. How he found out where she was, I don’t know. But Helena Bonham Carter was behind the door. She was here filming...
BB, MC: [go back and forth on the name for a moment, trying to remember] "Margaret’s Museum".
MC: She was here filming that. She was in Halifax for some reason. Jamie knocks on the door. Helena Bonham Carter answers it. It’s like 7:30 in the morning.
BB: No make up on.
MC: Exactly. She was terrific. I think she invited him in, or he invited her downstairs for coffee. Anyway, we got the interview with her while she was here. He would do that kind of zany wacko stuff. Then, he and Paula ... did they take over when I left? No. They hired Alan Davis.
BB: Yeah. He was the sports guy at CFAN or something. His wife was from here. They decided to move to Nova Scotia. But, being a sports guy, maybe he wasn’t comfortable...
MC: For that format.
BB: Yes. I don’t know what happened there. How come you left Sun FM? Was it your choice?
MC: Yes. It was my choice. Sadly, I’ve never been fired so I don’t know what that experience is like.
I had some investments in real estate. Money was not a big problem for me at the time because I was doing a lot of freelancing. There was an income coming in. We had an apartment we were renting out. I had been very impressed with Diane Swinamer at, in those days, the Metro Food Bank (now Feed Nova Scotia). They were advertising for a Promotion Co-Ordinator. A Communication Co-Ordinator? I can’t remember what the official title was.
I had a discussion with her about the fact that I would like to take a run at that for a while. I did, for about 8 months, 9 months. I wasn’t entirely successful in that capacity. You need a very specialized kind of person: A PR person who’s willing to work like 95 hours a week; I just wasn’t prepared to do that. And, as I said, I was doing weekends on CHNS the entire time I was with the Foodbank.
BB: Would you consider going to the Foodbank as having been a poor career move?
MC: No. I don’t think there is such a thing as a poor career move. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about the not-for-profit society. I recognized that thank god we’ve got people who are prepared to do that kind of work. I was not good at it. I wasn’t prepared to do what needed to be done.
BB: A little bit off topic here, but what do you think of Mel Boutilier? [Note: this interview was conducted prior to Boutilier’s near ouster from the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank]
MC: I have a lot of time for Mel Boutilier. I think he’s another amazing story. You talk about competition. He’s been in competition with the Metro Food Bank and with Feed Nova Scotia for many, many years. Parker Street is still doing very well. It’s only because of his efforts.
BB: I’ve always wondered why they’ve never merged. I’m sure there’s some kind of political reason.
MC: I’m sure there is.
BB: Anyway. Back to Jamie Paterson. How long was he "The Man in the Van", anyway? He remained after Alan Davis took over. I remember that.
MC: It must have been... two years, maybe. I think he was with me for a year before I left.
BB: Then he was at the Q.
MC: He met his wife there.
BB: Do you see Jamie around very much? You listen to the show in the morning. Jamie and Lisa [Note: this interview was conducted prior to the downsizing at Roger’s that resulted in Jamie’s layoff from the company]
MC: Whenever I’m in my car. Again, I have a lot of time for Jamie. I think he’s a great announcer. He does a super commercial. I think that for the kind of format he’s working in, he’s ideal. He is a young-ish family guy. Between him and Lisa, I think they do an amazing job on that show.
BB: Is that your favourite morning show?
MC: I would have to say it is. Next to Denyse Sibley, of course!
BB: Of course.
MC: Yes. Denyse and Daryl, who does the information component on that show. The only reason I would say that Jamie and Lisa’s show would attract me more is because of the music. I like the music that they play better than I like country music, although I do have a lot of time for country music as well.
BB: You’ll hear Serena Ryder on [Lite 92.9]. You’ll turn it up because you want to hear "Stompa". Do you like "Stompa"?
MC: I do.
6. To what do you attribute your success as a broadcaster? Not many people get to have a 50 year career in anything, let alone radio broadcasting. You've pretty much been doing what you wanted for the last 50 years.
BB: How does that feel?
MC: It feels great. I don’t regret getting into broadcasting at all. If I had to pinpoint a reason for my "success", I’m a terrific reader. I can read very, very well. That translates into doing commercials. I think that’s the strong point of my ability. I was never the most exciting, funny morning show host. But I was personable. I had a pretty good voice. And I was able to interact with the other people doing the show, pretty well.
BB: They say that people who love their jobs, never work a day in their life. Have you worked a day in your life?
MC: I don’t think I have. I’ve enjoyed going to work every day. The only thing that I regret is that, for 37 of my 50 years, I did morning shows. It necessitates getting up at anywhere from 2 to 4 o’clock in the morning. When you’re young enough, it’s fine. But, the older you get, the more difficult it is to maintain a life outside of broadcasting. Fortunately, I have a fabulous wife. I have very understanding kids who understood why we weren’t going to be going the park on Saturday afternoon: poor old Dad was lying on the couch, exhausted. That’s an inhumane shift. Unfortunately, it’s basically the only shift left in broadcasting.
If I could have done Afternoon Drive my entire career, I think I would have been happier outside of the business.
BB: Is that why Frank Cameron, before he left MBS, moved to afternoons? Just before he retired, he moved to afternoons on CHNS.
MC: I can’t remember that.
BB: It wasn’t for very long. Then, he was retired.
Okay. Shane Wilson told me, because he had discussed this with Lisa Blackburn, that when you get up that early you feel almost sick all the time, because you’re always tired. There’s something that makes you feel a little off. Did you ever have that?
MC: I never felt sick, but I certainly felt tired. I used to try to stay up until 11 o’clock or midnight. At a certain point, you just can’t do that anymore. Now, doing a morning run on the weekend, I go to bed at 8:30. I get up at 3:30. You just have to be prepared to make that sacrifice. But, yes, you get used to being exhausted to a certain extent. Still, when you see your kids want to go out and do something at some point, you feel guilty that you’re not able to physically respond.
BB: Even going out to supper might be too taxing for you.
7. How spirited and passionate was the competition between CHNS and CJCH back in the day?
MC: It was extremely spirited. At the initials stages, we both had t-shirt promotions, black t-shirts with our logo on them. I can remember that there was a photograph in the Chronicle Herald of a murder suspect coming out doing the perp walk. He was wearing a CJCH t-shirt. We thought, "Wow! Fantastic! This is great! How can we exploit this to our advantage?" I don’t think we ever did, but it was a daily thing. You were constantly trying to one-up the other guys.
BB: We’ll get to that later on, but about the May 2001 CHNS 75 anniversary celebration. It was the first time I ever met you. You wouldn’t remember this at all, but there was a booklet explaining to jocks back in the day how they should behave on the air. They should never reference the competition; they don’t exist. How do to intro’s; how to do extro’s. It was written by Bryan Sutcliffe.
BB: I was reading this. It made me think about how the competition between you two was back in the day. That competition existed for 50 years. When Gerry Lawrence would move back and forth, would have been considered almost a ....
MC: A traitor?
BB: Yes. Is that too strong a word?
MC: Yeah. I think it is. I don’t think it was what you would call "cut throat" competition. But, it was fierce. There’s no question about it. I can remember we were presenting, it might have been Celine Dion, at the Metro Centre. CJCH arrived with their street crew or whatever they were called at that time. They were handing out CJCH-related material at the door as people were going in.
It was a brilliant idea. If you stop and think about it, you’ve got pretty well a guaranteed audience at the competition’s radio station; and here, you’re able to pinpoint that demographic with whatever material you have.
So, yes, it was fierce competition. But, everybody was making a living in those days. Today, for example, I don’t think it would be a positive experience at all to be on the lower end of the competitive spectrum. It must be very frustrating. Inevitably, you have a pretty bad attitude towards the competition.
BB: Well, maybe that explains why Q104 is always making digs at C100. They’ve been doing that for years. In fact, they did that last week. Are you following The Ten Commandments they’re doing?
BB: There’s a young woman who will get up to $15000 if she does all of these things she’s commanded to do. One of the things was to stand at the Windsor Street exchange and give the finger to people as they drove by, but she had to wear a C100 t-shirt while doing so.
MC: This is where my age comes into play. I don’t understand that kind of programming. I didn’t understand the contest that Q ran where you had to eat your colleague’s toenails, or give your father a rectal examination. I don’t get it. Obviously, some people do, and they appeal to a young male demographic doing that kind of thing. But, it’s beyond me.
BB: Was it offensive to you?
MC: Well, it wasn’t offensive simply because I didn’t listen to it. I heard about it from other people. I was just curious. Why would they do that? Whom are they trying to attract with that kind of contest? What damage is it doing? And I still believe that that particular contest did some damage to Q104.
BB: There were people who were so turned off by that. Maybe some of their casual listeners dropped off. Maybe they attracted some more people.
BB: It was off putting to some people. When Live 105 went on the air in 2010, they said, "Look, we’re different from the other people. We’re not going to make people eat their toenails." They specifically referenced some of those contests.
8. What has been the biggest change in Halifax radio in the past 25 years?
MC: The preponderance of new signals. The fact that there are 10 stations as opposed to 3, fighting for the same or reduced advertising dollar. And, backslash, the internet has had a major impact on all radio stations. Not only do they now have to have their own website, but they are driving people from the radio station to the website in many cases, which I have never understood.
BB: They’ll say, "If you want more information on this, go to our website." And, you would prefer that everything be done in one medium.
MC: Or drive the people from the website to the radio station. Twice, or four times a year, depending on the size of the market, BBM comes to town. They run their surveys. Eighty-five percent of the advertising dollars that are spent are based on those BBM numbers. And, if you’re driving people away from the radio station and to the website, you’re running the risk of not having the same kind of numbers when the BBM survey is taken.
BB: Does the BBM measure folks who are streaming radio stations? If they’re streaming FX 101.9, do you care how people are listening to the station?
MC: Well. at the moment, it’s still a personal diary system. They keep talking about the people meters, which they have in the States, which will register automatically, electronically, what signals you are exposed to. So, if you’re walking through Mic Mac Mall, and you pass 8 different electronics stores, and they’re all listening to 8 different radio stations, that is going to register on your people meter: That you are a listener to all 8 of those signals.
BB: That’s hardly fair.
MC: I know. I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why the people meter has not yet come to Canada, or at least not to this market. So, they rely on people’s honesty to get this diary. It’s a lot of work! You have to register every 15 minutes that you’re listening to a radio signal, which station you’re listening to. And, one hundred percent of the national advertising dollars are spent because of your BBM results. To a certain extent, it’s the same with local. When you say that people buy from people, and you have an effective sales person, they can maybe convince Al MacPhee to spend some money where the BBM results maybe do not indicate that. Its tough.
BB: It’s interesting that they would rely on an inexact science to determine what the advertising rates are. I’ve heard that some people, to measure how popular a tv show is, see how many tweets a show gets. Maybe they could do the same with radio.
9. Tell me about the CHNS 75 anniversary weekend, which was in May 2001. Yes, I was there!
MC: At the Lord Nelson.
BB: There were a lot of people there that day. Frank Cameron. George Jordan. As many people as they could find, who had worked at the station over the years, were there. How much of a role did you plan in that weekend?
MC: Again, it was Nancy Hilchie, the General Manager, who organized it. She recognized early on that this was something worth celebrating. We moved our studios down there ... I can’t remember if it was 1 day or 2 days when we broadcast exclusively from there. The thinking was that that was the original site of the radio station.
BB: I thought it had been at the Carlton Hotel, actually.
MC: That could be. I think it was a good way of celebrating a milestone that very few stations even to this day, have achieved.
BB: How much of it was fun for you?
MC: It was all fun. I can remember Gerry Lawrence coming in, for example. I was on the air for whatever the period of time was. They were just [bringing] these people. I was interviewing them about their past foibles and achievements at the radio station, what CHNS had meant to them in their careers. It was a lot of fun. Interesting!
BB: The only ... criticism is too strong a word. The only comment I’d make is that during one of Frank Cameron’s shifts, he came back from a commercial and said, "During the commercial break someone came up to me and said that he had worked at the station in the 1930‘s." I thought, "Get that guy on the air!"
BB: He didn’t do that. It was so tantalizing to have heard this but disappointing not to have heard the stories. There aren’t even that many people alive from back then.
Anyway, it was a really cool weekend. This is when I first mentioned about the Brian Sutcliffe memo that he had written. Just poring through those old documents. Who keeps that stuff?
MC: Well, they gave an enormous amount of material to the Provincial Archives. When they moved from Tobin Street to Morris Street [actually, 1313 Barrington Street -- Bevboy], all of the old transcriptions. In fact, I can remember because I was involved in this. After vinyl had gone out of fashion, and CHNS had an enormous library of vinyl, we gave 99% of it to the Kermesse. They sold these things for 50 cents a pop or a dollar or whatever it was. There were thousands upon thousands of albums. But all of the important things to keep -- the old microphones, the transcriptions of old shows -- were all given to the provincial archives. I assume that they are still there.
BB: Scott Snailham said that when they moved out of Tobin Street that they were going to throw out all of these old acetate tapes in a dumpster or something.
MC: That surprises me.
BB: That was not part of your mandate?
MC: I wasn’t there when they moved. I had left to go back to Ontario for a brief period of time. I was there from ‘86 to ‘89.
That old building. It was crazy. Did you know that that building was insulated with seaweed and old newspapers?
BB: Well, it was originally a church.
MC: It was originally built as a church in 1904, I believe. For a period of time, during the Second World War, it was used as a brothel. If you were ever in there, the upstairs part, there were all of these funny little rooms which you could imagine as a brothel. It was an incredible old building. It was a shame that it had to be torn down.
BB: You weren’t around to see why they decided to move out of there in the first place.
MC: They had sold it to a developer who built the condo or apartment building that stands there today.
BB: There was a woman who had a business college. She ran it out of there for a while. She went out of business. Then, they tore it down. I remember that.
MC: She was probably just renting from the developer. I think Gary Ross was the guy who developed it.
BB: It was a shame to see the old building go. I never set foot in it. I imagine it could tell an awful lot of stories.
MC: You’ve seen the photographs? They could accommodate almost a symphony orchestra in some of those studios. The announcers had to wear suits and ties and in some cases tuxedos with tails.
BB: Even when they were on the air and nobody could see them?
BB: Strangest thing. All right, since we’re on that topic, let’s talk about Tobin Street a little bit. Do you have a lot of memories of Tobin Street?
MC: Yes. The FM station was down in the basement. The AM station was on the main floor. Upstairs there were sales offices. There was another level which is where these funny little rabbit-warren-type rooms were.
The soundproofing wasn’t that good.
BB: It was retrofitted to be a radio station.
MC: Yes. For a place to be close to the downtown and have its own parking lot, that was incredible right there. But, you’d see some interesting things. I can remember that Jim David was the Promotions Director for CHFX. He came running through the building one time and said, "There’s a prostitute out in the parking lot conducting her trade." This was the middle of the afternoon. Everybody, of course, naturally ran to the windows to take a look at this.
BB: All the men did.
MC: Even the women, I think. Jim went out to suggest that she move her business location somewhere else. That’s not something you’d see out of every radio station window!
We had a full-time carpenter. Frank Arsenault. He was the handyman/carpenter. He would do things like plow the parking lot in the Winter. Whatever gardening needed to be attended to in the summer, he would do it. He would build sets for remotes, back in the day when doing a remote was like a show. It was a major thing where you would have two or three hostesses handing things out. You’d have your announcer, of course. There would be a big backdrop with all kinds of station logos all over it. It was a major deal.
You would have to order a 5K line from Bell Canada and test it. It would take weeks to organize a remote.
BB: Today, it’s like, "Oh, you want us there Saturday? We’ll be there!"
BB: Ian Robinson told me about the time he dented his own head on the steps.
MC: He was running down the back hallway. He was late to get back to the control room. He’d gone to the bathroom or something. This was a shortcut. Somebody in the interim had opened the door. He came tearing around the corner and... SMACK! You know what head injuries are like. All that blood. He had to be taken to the hospital. There was nobody to take over for him. Poor old Ian!
BB: What happened to that shift?
MC: I don’t know. In those days you had newsmen on until midnight. The newsman had a crash course in operating and just sat and played carts or records or whatever they were playing.
BB: It’s not funny, exactly. It’s Ian’s main memory of working there. He was the last person, I think, who played at Tobin Street, or maybe the first one on Morris. One or the other.
MC: It could be.
BB: I wish I could have gone into that building. I moved to metro in 1988; it was just as they were moving to Morris.
MC: It was unique as a radio station.
BB: Why did they move from Morris Street to Sackville?
MC: I’m not 100% sure. I have a funny feeling it was probably financial considerations. I believe the lease rate down on Sackville was better than that Renaissance South building, which I think was relatively new. They had a lot of room there. I don’t understand all of these things, but their lease would have been up on Morris Street. Rather than renew at whatever the new rate was going to be, they probably got a better deal to go down to Sackville Street.
BB: And they’re the only stations that are downtown. Is there anything else you’d like to say about the 75th anniversary of CHNS?
MC: I don’t think I’ll be around for the 100th.
BB: What was your biggest surprise that weekend? A person who had been there a long time before.
MC: To be honest with you, I can’t remember. The biggest highlight for me was my interview with Gerry Lawrence. Gerry and I had worked together. We’re friends. But he still had some stories that I’d never heard before.
BB: Do you know why they call him Jer Bear?
MC: I don’t think I do.
BB: I think he was working at CJCH then. It was a hot night. He took off his shirt. He’s a hairy guy apparently. Somebody walked into the studio while he’d be sitting there. They started calling him "Jer Bear"!
MC: That makes sense. You know his trick, when he was on his braces. He would be able to get around with the braces to a certain extent. He would be dragging himself. He would be standing in the main hallway on Tobin Street. If a guest was in for a tour or whatever, and they were walking past him, he would fall on the floor and scream, "What are you doing to a poor old crippled guy?" You can imagine how the person would feel. That was his big trick. Crazy guy.
BB: Where does he live now?
MC: I believe he is in... I’m not sure. I know that he’s living with one of his sons, and his wife of course. But I’m not sure.
BB: I’ve never met the man. I’d love to meet Gerry Lawrence.
10. The Megan Edwards question. You lose your iPod. I find it. What songs on it would surprise me? You've already told me you like Serena Ryder.
MC: I don’t know if she would make it to my iPod. I would think that there would be a certain component of the middle Beatles era, even through Sgt. Pepper and the White Album. Neil Diamond, believe it or not, "Hot August Night".
I met him. I met Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as well. But, I did a show in Sudbury with Neil Diamond, early in his career.
I like Adele. She’s fabulous.
BB: There’s a Neil Diamond Halifax story. Have you heard it?
BB: The Halifax Neil Diamond story I heard was he played at the old Capitol Theatre, where Maritime Centre is now, in the ‘60‘s. Of course, it was a movie theatre as well. They didn’t bother announcing it was Neil Diamond playing there on the marquee. They left the ad for the movie that was playing at that time. So, Neil Diamond walked out on stage and said, "Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Cool Hand Luke."
So, you like Adele. Anything else?
MC: Eric Clapton, his later stuff. His live album is fabulous. Nora Jones.
BB: Do you like Diana Krall?
MC: I do. It’s fairly eclectic. I’m not into heavy metal at all. It’s more pop related, jazz related.
BB: How about Beyonce? Blue Rodeo?
MC: I recognize Beyonce’s talent, but I don’t like her. Blue Rodeo’s a great Canadian band, but they wouldn’t be on my iPod.
11. Bonus question. Courtesy of... Deb Rent!
Ask him what he would do differently if he ran MBS.
Ask him what advice he would give Robert Pace.
And then cross your fingers. He may answer honestly. But I have my doubts. lol.
MC: It’s a difficult company to run because you’ve got some major market stations in Halifax. You’ve got some medium market stations in Saint John and Moncton and even Charlottetown. And you’ve got some very small markets in Campbellton, Miramichi.
I would have a manager responsible for each of those divisions. I would have the News Director responsible for the news operation, which is basically done out of Halifax now. But there is no News Director. Say if you were the afternoon girl who just took the afternoon off for a trip to Montreal. She needs somebody to fill in for her on Monday. Well, I got a phone call asking if I would be prepared to do it. There was nobody who was responsible for shifting, the payroll, the accounting. It isn’t haphazard; but it’s all being handled out of the Finance Director’s office. She has far more important things to do.
I think I would have managers set up. Now, they don’t. They don’t have any General Managers left. Maybe that’s doable in individual markets. But there should be one person responsible for small market stations, one more responsible for the major market stations. There’s just nobody that’s accountable at the moment.
BB: So, if somebody somebody calls in sick on a Monday morning, whom does that person call?
MC: The Director of Finance.
BB: That seems like an odd choice.
MC: Well, she handles all the payroll stuff. When I was the News Director there, I would handle all of that. I’d handle all of the paper work, the accounting, the scheduling, vacations. I’m not entitled to vacations any more, so I don’t know what happens there. But there just doesn’t seem to be anybody who is responsible and accountable for that sort of thing.
BB: I’m surprised there haven’t been any gaffs with respect to scheduling. I would think there have been some close calls.
MC: I’m sure.
BB: Okay. That’s part one. Part two: Ask him what advice he would give Robert Pace. Do you have his right ear at all?
MC: I don’t think I do. I’d like it if Robert could avail himself of the common person a little more. If he got to know the staff a little bit better than he does. Come down to the third floor. I’m not sure if you know about the layout. The seventh floor is the executive offices; third floor is the workings of the station.
I get to see him probably as much as anybody on staff. He comes in frequently on Saturdays or Sundays. He’ll always pop in and say hi. I’ll ask him what he thinks of Justin Trudeau and that kind of stuff. [Bevboy note: This interview was conducted prior to Justin Trudeau’s election as leader of the federal Liberal Party] But, if he got to know the staff a little bit better, I think that a lot of this negative image that he has would evaporate. People would get to know him a little better. So, that would be my advice to him.
BB: Would you describe him as a nice guy?
MC: I do, yes.
BB: You said he’s ruthless. He can be a ruthless nice guy?
MC: Sure. He can. He’s a businessman, and he wants his business to succeed. The financial success is a reflection of how well you’re succeeding. I think that these people in Saint John have done exactly the wrong thing, the way they’ve handled their strike from the get-go. They’ve made it so personal, and attacked him on a personal level. I don’t think you’re going to succeed with Robert Pace when you do that.
BB: I’m sure he’s been upset by some of the words thrown his way.
MC: I’m sure, on a personal level, that he has. I don’t know that they’re doing it any more. I think somebody probably got to them and said, "Look, back off here! This is not the way we’re going to succeed."
BB: Have you seen Debra Rent around at all?
MC: I haven’t seen her since I left.
BB: I guess you worked different shifts.
MC: We worked the same shift when I was there. I think I’ve talked to her on the phone a couple of times. She took over from me. She was the News Director after I left.
BB: And Julia Kirkey told me that Debra Rent was more of a coach than a boss. She had a lot of respect for her.
MC: I do, too. She’s great.
BB: Thank you very much, Mike Cranston, for the last two and a half hours of your time. I know that you’re largely retired now, but I am taking you away from your soap operas. I do appreciate your coming by. The least I can do is pay for lunch.
MC: You can pay for lunch any time.